picture of C. Monteverdi
lab51 clef icon Claudio Monteverdi
L'Orfeo
(Mantua, February 24, 1607)
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Focus on Act II: Some Study Questions

This act shows the greatest range of emotion in the opera. It begins light-heartedly with the pre-nuptial rejoicing of Orfeo and his friends and then shifts character radically with the devastating news, delivered by the Messagiera, that Euridice has tragically died.

The following are some questions (of varying levels of difficulty) to consider. Page numbers in parentheses refer to the original printed score (i.e., those numbers on the top of the sourcebook pages).

  1. What is the meter of the opening sinfonia (26)? Does the beat seem to fall into groups of 2 or 3? Which instrument or instruments is your ear drawn to? Why?

  2. Notice the steady triple meter of Orfeo's brief song that follows (27). How many phrases do you hear? Is there any repeated material (a repeated phrase) within this tiny piece?

  3. How would you describe the ritornelli and the solos and duets of the pastori that come next (28-30)? What is the meter here? Does it change in these passages?

  4. The chorus ("Dunque fa degni Orfeo") that follows the repetition of Ritornello 5 is almost entirely homophonic. Which voice carries the melody? Is your ear drawn to any other voice part or instrument? How does this other voice or instrument function within the homophonic texture?

  5. Is Orfeo's song (beginning 33) an example of stile recitativo or is it an aria? Why?
    Why is the entry of the Messagiera (36) so jarring? Consider the text and the dramatic impact of her message. How does Monteverdi create the dramatic shift through music? Look at the meter, rhythm and melody.

  6. At what point in the passages that follow does Orfeo comprehend that Euridice is dead? Again, how, musically, does Monteverdi convey the meaning of the words?

  7. How is the refrain "Ahi! Caso acerbo!" -- first sung by the Messagiera -- used throughout the rest of the act? What is the function fo the chorus once the message has been delievered?